Monday, October 27, 2008

Thus Saith the Lorde

I am writing these words as a route map
an artifact for survival...

History is not kind to us
we restitch it with living
past memory forward
into desire
into the panic articulation
of want without having
or even the promise of getting.

And I dream of our coming together
encircled driven
not only by love
but by lust for a working tomorrow
the flights of this journey
mapless uncertain
and necessary as water.

-Audre Lorde

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


There are those, bright and visible among us, who believe in a Queer Renaissance...that we can make the world anew by loving transformation with our every action, by building our wishes into place to live, by writing our dreams in deep red pen on every wall that faces us. There are those among us who thread the present into 50 ways to reimagine life at once, teasing the future with incrementally wilder ways to be present. Queer black filmmaker, poet, thinker Julia R. Wallace is one of those.

I'm a fan. (Can you tell?)

As an outgrowth of the collaborative online community transformation venture Queer Renaissance (, and a compelling poetic filmic vision, Julia Wallace is creating Until, a poem crystallized into a short experimental narrative film about friendship, love, secrecy, shame and the possibility of freedom. And I want you to know about it. Because I love you.

After hearing the poem and reading the screenplay for Until I already have a crush on the main character. Pro, a quiet loving earnest college student wants the best for her best friend Hailey. And she's thrilled and gratified when after facing rejection from some guy on campus, Hailey wants her. As always though, it gets complicated when the lights turn on. What will it take for each woman to be true to herself in private and in public?

Y'all, reading this screenplay makes me want to be a better braver person. It scrapes up those moments when we choose our fears over each other, and when we choose each other out of makes me want to build altars and monuments to those public hand holdings and private yeses that risk everything except our integrity. And to those moments when we almost get there.

There should be a billion films like this, but there aren't, and Julia and the crew are shooting November 14-16 in Atlanta so go here to find out more about Until and how you can support that necessary process of making our love, our questions, our hope and our process visible and tangible.

love always,

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Because All Our Love Matters: State Economic Violence and the Beauty of Survival

First National Congress of Mothers: Address of Welcome, Mrs. Theodore W. Birney (1897)
Conference on the Care of Dependent Children: Call for the Conference, Theodore Roosevelt (1908)
Social Security Act of 1935: Title IV-Grants for Sate Aid to Dependent Children (1935)
Social Security Act Amendments of 1939: Old Age and Survivors Insurance Benefit Payments (1939)
"Cleveland Sends 9 Negroes South" New York Times, June 9, (1956)
Illegitimacy and Its Impact on the Aid to Dependent Children Program, Bureau of Public Assistance, (1960)
The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, Daniel P. Moynihan (1965)
"Woman Battles Sterilization Ruling," Harry Trimborn Los Angeles Times, May 31 (1966)
"47 More Negroes Held in Carolina," James T. Wooten, New York Times, November 13 (1968)
Dandridge vs. Williams, Supreme Court (1970)
"Welfare is a Women's Issue," Johnnie Tillmon (1972)
"States Abortion Law Helps Reduce Welfare Costs," Oakland Tribune, (1972)
Hearings on Health Care and Human Experimentation, Niel Ruth Cox (1973)
"Funding Sterilization and Abortion for the Poor," Sheila M. Rothman (1975)
"State of the Union Address," Gerald Ford (1976)
"Restoring the Traditional Black Family," Eleanor Holmes Norton (1985)
(All of the above can be found in Welfare: A Documentary History by Gwendolyn Mink and Rickie Solinger)
Welfare's End, Gwendolyn Mink, (1998)
Still Lifting, Still Climbing: African American Women's Contemporary Activism, Kimberly Spinger ed., 1999
"Vision Statement", National Black Women's Health Project
"'Triple Jeopardy': Black Women and the Growth of Feminist Consciousness in SNCC, 1964-1975," Kristin Anderson-Bricker
"'Necessity Was the Midwife of Our Politics': Black Women's Health Activism in the 'Post'-Civil RIghts Era (1980-1996), Deborah R. Grayson
Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion and Welfare in the United States, Rickie Solinger, (2001)
Soul Talk, Gloria Hull (2001)
Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, Jennifer Nelson (2003)
The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women's Struggles Against Urban Inequality, Rhonda Y. Williams, 2004 (and props to Rhonda for suggesting most of this reading list)
Faubourg Treme (

and especially
Prisons as a Tool for Reproductive Oppression: Cross-Movement Strategies for Gender Justice
Remarks of Gabriel Arkles from Sylvia Rivera Law Project on panel at CR10, 9/27/08

let me start with an excerpt from an email I wrote the other night:

predictably, becoming a 48 hour expert on welfare in the US has made me really really angry.

it's crazy how brutal and extreme the implications of US welfare policy are. the whole set of laws and the political speeches that endorse them are written to make black motherhood a crime and to make the production or sustenance of black life false value, unvalue, negative possibility.

like the federal government funding sterilizations at a 90% rate and abortions only at the rates that the states do (so at the most 50% in the 1970's

or this woman literally going in to jail because she refused to undergo a sterilization she was sentenced to in court for the minor charge or being in a room where she knew marijuana was being consumed.

never meant to survive. never even meant to be born.

but then the miraculous thing is how we keep doing both those things anyway, persistently reborn regardless...

like Martha Benton a black mother who as the leader of a second generation of black women organizing for their right to public housing in Baltimore says of her mentor Goldie Baker "I am her creation."

and like the sisters at what was National Black Women's Health Project and Sister Care and other sustainable health collectives for black women saying "necessity was the midwife of our politics"

and like the women who founded the Georgia Hunger Coalition who I literally saw chant down the evil EBT/food stamp policy makers at the Jimmy Carter Library when I was 18

and like Rosemarie Mitchell at Low Income Families Fighting Together who told me last weekend that her 7 years working for LIFFT is the pursuit of happiness made real even though she cries late at night sometimes

or like Paul Newman, one of my students/adopted siblings who read a poem to a crowd tonight while shaking from nervousness and the chill in the air about how the school to prison pipeline is doing everything to steal his life but how he's a superhero so it can't destroy him.

So anyway. I'm gonna be here tonight writing about it.

because all our love matters,

All our love matters. Neoliberalism be damned.
My reading up on welfare policy and politics in the United States has me wishing I was reading slave code instead.

We have all heard the myth of the welfare queen, having babies 5 or 6 IN ORDER to be poor enough to steal assistance from the government. Some of us have heard that myth over and over again for decades. That is the myth that allowed politicians (most notably Reagan and Clinton) to screw over poor women and children of all races in the United States over by dismantling welfare piece by piece. Somehow repetition got voters to believe that most of the people on welfare to believe that some scandalous black woman with a brood of kids was the typical welfare recipient. To forget that most of the people on welfare have always been white and that (according to the Bureau of Public Assistance itself) only half of one percent of mothers on welfare even have more than 5 kids. And, according to government stats again, most mothers on welfare don't have any kids while they are on welfare and the overwhelming majority of mothers on welfare only have one or 2 kids at all.

But somehow we are all told this story. Poor black young women have kids to cheat money from the US government. Which means that poor black children (and poor children generally) are not only worthless, they create negative value and negative values at the same time. How dare these black women pretend tha the lives of their children are valuable enough to make their survival a community concern. The nerve.

Of course we are hearing the same story about the children of immigrants now. People are coming to the United States to have their children in order to steal benefits, cheating into a citizenship that was never meant to value the lives of the children of those forom the countries that the United States destablizes for economic gain.

This mundane every day set of racist stories teaches, and makes normal the most deadly, inhumane and disgusting lie that has ever been told:

Some lives are worth less than nothing. At birth.

Which of course means, some people should be prevented from being born.

If the denial of benefits to children in need wasn't disgusting enough to someone reading this, please remember that these policies are in bed next to the targeted prevention of certain people's lives from the outset. Gary Bauer, chief aide to Ronald Reagan (who by the way along with all of his other crimes against humanity Reagan is the person who coined the term "welfare queen") blamed the "reckless choices" of poor women who had children the cause of an apocalypse "There will either be no next generation, or there will be a generation that is worse than none at all." Representative E. Clay Shaw of Florida agreed arguing that poor women be sterilized "when they start having these babies one after another, and the terrible thing they are doing to the next generation...something has got to be done to put a stop to it."

What does that mean? "Worse than no generation at all." Whose life is worse than the absence of life on the planet? What does it mean to prefer the end of humanity to a future in which the children of poor women exist?

And everything possible was done. When Georgia and North Carolina and Florida et al failed to make compulsory sterilization a requirement for women receiving welfare, California led the move, first a jusdge sentences a woman on welfare to sterilization for a minor infraction. And the federal goverment when slick institutional violence style, using imbalanced funding to make sterilization more accessible to poor women than abortion. (see Funding Sterlization and Poor Women citation above---i wish it was just a conspiracy theory, but it's not.)

And reading all of this, I was sickened, but not surprised. As Gabriel Arkles points out prisons have an explicit policy to govern the lives of transgendered prisoners in order to "prevent pregnancy" and we know that women who give birth in prison are often sterilized at the moment they give birth under anesthesia and very shady "consent" circumstances. The state, especially a state that has sold itself to neoliberal capitalism has every reason to prevent some folks from being born, some folks from parenting...because the values we create say life is everything, and all life is priceless, our autonomy of when and how we parent is ours, because we, queer, racialized, poor, immigrant radical parents and queer, racialized poor immigrant radical youth are creating a world that is valuable without the sale of people and the enforcement of really bad ideas.

And we are born and reborn again and again. So Bauer and Shaw and so many others are afraid of the world that we ARE creating...with our youth and our rebirth and our literal birth and all the other forms of our creativity.

Be scared. Shit.

Because we are born and birthing and just these past couple of weeks I met some amazing midwives of color like Ayanfe and Anjali and some amazing mamas of color and some amazing youth of color and especially some amazing organizers committed to survival, which is the resounding counter message that our lives mean everything

because all our love matters.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hail the Birth of Quirky Black Girls Magazine!

Quirky Black Girls is a network of fierce black women. We share our dreams, visions, and thoughts with you by producing the feminist publication QBG (Quirky Black Girls) Magazine, a quarterly ezine focusing on politics, cultural criticism, and social change. QBG Magazine features our art, poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and our ruminations on popular culture and social issues.

QBG Magazine aims to provide a forum for Quirky Black Girls - and those who love them - where feminist dialog is the only norm and following your truth is the the only rule.

QBG Manifesta

Because Audre Lorde looks different in every picture ever taken of her. Because Octavia Butler didn't care. Because Erykah Badu is a patternmaster. Because Macy Gray pimped it and Janelle Monae was ready.

Resolved. Quirky black girls wake up ready to wear a tattered society new on our bodies, to hold fragments of art, culture and trend in our hands like weapons against conformity, to walk on cracks instead of breaking our backs to fit in the mold.

We're here, We're Quirky, Get used to it!

.... Quirky Black girls don't march to the beat of our own drum; we hop, skip, dance, and move to rhythms that are all our own. We make our own drums out of empty lunchboxes, full imaginations and number 3 pencils.

Quirky Black girls are not quirky because they like white shit; rather they understand that because they like it, it is not the sole province of whiteness.

Quirky black girls are the answer to the promise that black means everything, birthing and burning a new world every time.

Sound it out. Quirky, like queer and key, different and priceless, turning and open. Black, not be lack but black one word shot off the tongue like blap, bam, black. Girl, like the curl in a hand turning towards itself to snap, write, hold or emphasize. Quirky. Black. Girl. You see us. Act like you know.

We demand that our audiences say "yes-sir-eee" if they agree and we answer our own question "What good do your words do, if they don't understand you?" by speaking anyway, even if our words are "bruised and misunderstood."

Quirky black girls are hot!
Whether you're ready to see it or not.

Quirky means rejecting a particular type of "value," a certain unreadiness for consumption and subsumption in an economy of black heterocapital. This means that Quirky Black Girls act independently of dominant social norms or standards of beauty. So fierce that others may not be able to appreciate us just yet.

No matter what age we are, we hold onto that girlhood drive for adventure, love for friends, independent spirit, wacky sense of humor, and hope for the future.

Quirky Black Girls resist boxes in favor of over lapping circles with permeable membranes that allow them to ebb and flow through their multiple identities.

Quirky Black Girls- Embrace the quirky!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Combahee Survival

Check out the new Combahee Survival Project from BrokenBeautiful Press!

We were never meant to survive. None of us. We were never meant to find each other, love each other, remember the warriors that came before. We were never meant to know these histories. We were never meant to turn our trauma into a map for transformation. We were never meant to survive. But we do it anyway.

Break it down. Sur viv al. Life underneath waiting to embrace all of us. Survival is a poem written in a corner, found waiting in a basement, forgotten. Survival is when the timeliness of your word is more important than the longevity of one body. Survival is spirit connected through and past physical containers. Survival is running for your life and then running for Albany city council without consenting to the State. Survival is shaping change while change shapes you. Survival means refusing to believe the obvious. Survival means remembering the illegal insights censored in the mouths of our mothers. Survival is quilt patterns, garden beds. Survival means growing, learning, working it out. Survival is a formerly enslaved black woman planning and leading a battle that freed 750 slaves from inside an institution called the United States Military. Survival is out black lesbians creating a publishing movement despite an interlocking system of silences. Survival is a group of black women recording their own voices, remembering a river, a battle, a warrior and creating a statement to unlock the world. Survival is like that.

We were never meant to survive. And we can do even more. This booklet moves survival to revival, like grounded growth, where seeds seek sun remembering how the people could fly. We are invoking the Combahee River Collective Statement and asking how it lives in our movement now. And the our and the we are key to this as individual gains mean nothing if others suffer.

We were never meant to survive but we will thrive. We want roundness and wholeness, where everyone eats and has time to be creative has time to just be, What tools does it give that are necessary to our survival? What gaps does it leave us to lean into? Black feminism lives, but the last of the originally organized black feminist organizations in the United States were defunct by 1981.

Here we offer and practice a model of survival that is spiritual and impossible and miraculous and everywhere, sometimes pronounced revival. Like it says on the yellow button that came included in the Kitchen Table Press pamphlet version of The Combahee River Collective Statement in 1986 "Black Feminism LIVES!" And therefore all those who were never meant to survive blaze open into a badass future anyway. Meaning something unpredictable and whole.

We were. Never meant. To Survive. And here we are.

And beyond survival, what of that? In 1977 the Combahee River Collective wrote "As Black women we see Black Feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneuos oppressions that all women of color face." They also said "The inclusiveness of our politics makes us concerned with any situation that impinges on the lives of women, Third World and working people." And they concluded: "If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression."

Today we, a sisterhood of young black feminists, mentored in words and deeds by ancestors, elders, peers and babies, assert that by meditating on the survival and transformation of black feminism we can produce insight, strategy and vision for a holistic movement that includes ALL of us. So while this is a project instigated by self-proclaimed (and reclaimed) black feminists, our intention is that it can be shared and changed by everyone who is interested in freedom.

Check out the exercises, form a study group, and contribute to the Combahee Survival Zine at!